The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Marsha Diane Arnold
Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold is a picture book author of twenty-four books, with over one million books sold.
Marsha grew up on the Kansas prairies, but lived in Northern California for most of her life. Now she lives with her husband in southwest Florida, near the Caloosahatchee River and her daughter’s family and only a short flight from her son’s family. Besides creating stories, her favorite activities are snorkeling, hiking, traveling, gardening, and climbing trees.
Her books have garnered honors like Best First Book by a New Author (Heart of a Tiger), Smithsonian Notable (The Pumpkin Runner), and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (Roar of a Snore). Her bilingual Galápagos Girl won the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Lights Out, about light pollution, has been praised by the Dark Sky community as well as the children’s lit community and was a finalist for the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text.
Marsha's also the author of Badger's Perfect Garden, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki (2019), Mine. Yours., illustrated by Qin Leng (2019), May I Come In?, illustrated by Jennie Poh (2018), Waiting for Snow, illustrated by Renata Liwska (2016), and Lost. Found.: A Picture Book, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (2015). Marsha enjoys sharing her love of story through school visits, manuscript consultations, her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books e-course, and especially, by reading to her four grandchildren. For additional information about Marsha, see our earlier interview (here).
Her newest picture book, One Small Thing, releases on May 9th.
Welcome back Marsha!
It’s always wonderful to be with you, Maria.
What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?
I do tend to wander about when I’m writing. I’m quite sure, at an earlier time in my life, you could have found me writing in a tree.
It would be so fun to write in a tree (or a treehouse)! What was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for One Small Thing?
I had been thinking for some time that it was the California wildfires and Hurricane Irma that inspired my story. But these happened in 2017 and my notes tell me I started thinking about One Small Thing at the end of 2019. Looking at a few more notes, I found this:
“ONE SMALL THING – Inspired by the Australian fires and the rescue dogs searching for koalas. (The Australian fires were in 2019.)
I also responded to a friend’s post on Instagram about the fires. I wrote “Tragic and heartbreaking. One feels so helpless. But there are small things to be done. Bless the American firefighters going there to help and dogs searching for koalas.”
I love how you show that even the smallest bit of kindness and bravery makes a difference. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for One Small Thing?
I don’t keep good records, I fear. I believe I began writing at the very end of 2019. It appears I wrote it in less than a year, which is fairly fast for me.
You had a great premise and wonderful inspiration. I also imagine your subconscious had been working on it for a while. What was the toughest aspect of writing One Small Thing?
The toughest part of writing for me is revising, serious revising The first editor interested in One Small Thing wanted a revision. Stressful, but in the end, successful.
It definitely paid off. Is there something you want your readers to know about One Small Thing?
Just that I’d love for them to read the story and then do one small thing for someone, whether a person or an animal or the Earth we live on.
I sincerely hope you get your wish; one small kindness by everyone would make a world of difference. Did anything surprise or delight you when you first saw Laura Watkins’ illustrations for the first time? Which is your favorite spread?
Laura’s illustrations are so huggable, aren’t they? I had always imagined an aerial view of the animals walking home when they didn’t know what to do, so I was delighted to see Laura’s illustration with a view from above. I can never choose one favorite.
Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Laura Watkins, 2023.
I’ll choose two! I love the spread of Badger searching for Cricket in the dark part of Brightly Wood.
Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Laura Watkins, 2023.
And also the spread of Beaver and Raccoon sitting by the river. The sadness on Raccoon’s face and the expression of sweet caring on Beaver's face really bring the reader into the story.
These are gorgeous illustrations; both so caring, yet so different in tone. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I wish I could! I sold a manuscription in January that I’m most excited about, but we haven’t made an official announcement yet. I have two manuscripts being circulated, but so far, I’ve only gotten rejections. Such is a writer’s life! One is a funny rhyming story and the other is a story of unexpected happenings. Wish them luck!
Because I have two books coming out in 2023, I’m spending lots of time promoting them.
I will be very excited to get back to writing stories.
Good luck with the manuscripts and fun on your launches! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Again, a “favorite” question! Let’s see. My husband and I like to take road trips and we’re both nature lovers. We’ve been to lots of parks and forests. If I had to choose one, it would be Yellowstone - the wolves, the bears, the bison, the coyotes, the geysers! And much more. We visited there on our 50th anniversary road trip and hope to return on this year’s road trip.
It is a magical place. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?
My parents and grandparents all gave me wonderful advice.
But the advice I will share with you wasn’t given to me directly. It is the motto of Worcester Academy, one of the schools that recruited my son. The school’s motto is “Achieve the Honorable.” Isn’t that the best? It is the foundation of their core values of honor, respect, community, personal growth, and challenge. I think it’s a wonderful motto for children’s writers as we definitely want to express honor when we write for our precious children.
Wow! That is indeed a great moto for children's writers & illustrators. Thank you, Marsha for stopping by and sharing with us. It was a pleasure chatting with you.
It’s always a pleasure to connect with you, Maria. Thank you for all you do for children’s literature.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF post on One Small Thing.
To find out more about Marsha Diane Arnold, or contact her: